Ties to Rotary go farther back than 30 years

I’ll be attending a special event this week — a local luncheon celebrating 30 years of women in Rotary International. I have even more to commemorate, because my personal history with Rotary goes back much farther than that.
Before I moved to Dallas in 1980 — and for almost a decade after that — Rotary was still very much following its original model. It was founded in 1905 by Paul Harris, a Chicago attorney, who asked two businessmen friends to validate a plan: Get men representing different types of work together for lunch once a week. The purposes Harris had in mind were friendship, exchange of ideas and giving back to the communities in which they lived and earned their livings. The others agreed, and decided on the name Rotary, since initial meetings of this new club would “rotate” through their offices.
No one is 100 percent sure, but the prevailing belief is that the original trio represented America’s three major faiths, and Paul Harris was Jewish. Religion as such has never played a part in Rotary except that a prayer — given by a different member every week in accordance with personal religious beliefs, or none — opens each meeting, followed by pledging allegiance to the American flag. The closing is recitation of Rotary’s “Four-Way Test” of purpose and promise, written by Harris himself: “Of all the things we think, say, or do — Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
In those early years of the 20th century, and for a long time after, the idea of women in business was foreign to the men who picked up the Rotary model and spread it first across the United States, and eventually around the globe — the world’s first service organization. But change came, and was formally recognized at Rotary’s international convention 30 years ago, when this powerful statement was read from the podium by a leader of the time: “I would like to remind you that the world today is very different from the world of 1905 — and Rotary has to adapt to this changing world…”
Rotary was a force in Park Forest, Illinois, where I lived and worked for 17 years. As a recognized community journalist, I was often asked to be a guest at the local club’s meetings, and I had its promise that whenever women would be admitted to the organization — an idea that was hanging in the air even then — I would be its first female member. But I came to Dallas before that time, and didn’t think much about Rotary until…
Several years later, when my spastic esophagus needed regular monitoring, I was referred to a doctor who had a Rotary plaque hanging in his office. I told him about my early connection with a club that had promised me inclusion, and he offered to sponsor me for local membership. And I’ve been an active Rotarian ever since.
My club supports efforts that help the hungry and medically underserved, provides scholarships and leadership training for high-schoolers and once a month cleans up our assigned area of the White Rock Lake shoreline At regular weekly meetings, we share lunch and conversation before enjoying a program that teaches us something new about history, local government, current events, area institutions — and you can see us every Christmas season, manning the Salvation Army Angel Tree at NorthPark Mall. We also contribute — in honor of Paul Harris — to Rotary’s current international effort: worldwide eradication of polio, now finally seeing light at the end of this long, long tunnel.
When I make a return visit every year or two back to Park Forest, I always attend a meeting of its Rotary Club, which continues to thrive, and twice I’ve even been at meetings of Club One in Chicago, where Paul Harris himself must be smiling down at the contributions of women to the great organization he founded.

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